With a total of one line of dialogue in the last episode, Peter Butterworth’s impact was entirely down to his familiarity and a bit of comedy gurning. As the episode title suggests, The Meddling Monk gives him a lot more to do – starting with an extended sequence of him making breakfast, with a toaster and a camping stove, for the captive Doctor – ending up with a cup of tea hurled in his face.
He’s not a menacing figure, but he is wily, using the vague and circumloquacious language of a priest to evade the questions of the Anglo-Saxon villagers, Vicki and Steven. In their first encounter with him, Steven and Vicki are suspicious, and there’s a lovely moment when Steven smugly believes he’s outwitted the Monk – only for Vicki to point out that they probably haven’t been as clever as they think. There is some implicit link to the Doctor’s own preference for clever words over actions, and the Monk’s habits of calling Edith ‘My child’, chuckling to himself about his own cleverness, and waving away questions is quite Doctorish as well. And because Hartnell is having a week off, the Monk gets even more chance to inhabit some of his role.
Like several of the previous historical episodes, this humour is offset by some deeply brutal violence. In particular, the fate of Edith (played by Alethea ‘Hur’ Charlton from The Cave of Skulls, and here again having to keep the peace between hairy alpha males) at the hands of a Viking scouting party is very horrible, while the fight between the Anglo-Saxons and the Norsemen seems nastier than normal because it looks genuinely like some farmers inelegantly hacking away at each other rather than knights having a gracefully choreographed swordfight.
Next episode: A Battle of Wits